Monthly Archives: August 2011

Collaborative research

Bengt Järrehult, Director of Innovation and Knowledge Management at the SCA (Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget), writes:

 “One of the major findings in mankind’s history is realizing the value of working together. Without it we would have starved to death about 100 000 years ago because a single man going hunting is very inefficient (I know – I am a hunter). We have also seen a very strong correlation between the amount of innovations happening and the number of people who are interconnected in the society during the course of the years.”

You can read more at “Open Innovation: To Cooperate or Collaborate –That is the Question

This reminded me of a previous post on collaborative research “ResearchGATE and Its Savvy Use of the Web”  I revisited the ResearchGate site which has expanded significantly over the last 18 months, and now lists nineteen specialties under Agricultural Science, from Agricultural Economics through Irrigation and Water Management to Waste Management.  Researchers from all over the world have signed up.  According to the site, there are now over 1 million members involved in 24 disciplines.

Post written by Peter Bloch

See also “Open Innovation; how should we deal with the IP?

Social media for science; be ready with some IP guidelines

Recent article on SciDevNet encouraging scientists to better utilise social media networks.  “How scientists can reach out with social media” They say:

“The general public has the power to deny your funding or restrict your experiments. It’s important to reach outside your laboratories, offices and field stations to engage with the wider world, to show people that science is essential and that researchers are working hard to help address important issues”

And the article goes on to give some great practical advice about how this can happen.  IP practitioners need to be aware of these efforts, and also be ready to insert IP relevant content into social media guidelines that might be produced.  I have blogged on this subject in the past, see “IP issues in social media networks” – this is an important area that will only grow in relevance.

The FAO have a comprehensive Social Media Policy which anyone can access.  It includes information and advice for their employees about copyrights,  logo use, as well as disclaimer usage, and guidelines about which blogs should be considered “official” and which not, and how that distinction is made.

More and more we will need to think about the usage of these tools and how they are maintained so not to loose any built value, or valuable user names.  Think of a simple example whereby a social media account might be built, and then access lost once the employee who was maintaining it moves on.

Back to the original item.  The advice from SciDevNet is good advice.  Social media noise is a great way to get science noticed and communicated to a broader audience.  Just be aware of the wider implications from an IP perspective, and be ready to act accordingly.

“Food Security Needs Sound IP”: IPRs critical to meet the demands of a growing population

This article in The Scientist “Opinion: Food Security Needs Sound IP”  starts with the all too familiar population projections for the coming years, and the subsequent pressure this will put on agriculture.  It goes on to point out that techniques and technologies will be required to meet this challenge – and that IPRs will need to be improved in order to promote the necessary technology transfer to areas most in need.

“The effective use of research and IPR can help drive delivery of innovative and productivity-increasing technologies crucial to agricultural and economic growth and achieving future needs for food security. The key is to match the proper IPR mechanisms with specific conditions, and to manage them effectively and efficiently to promote innovative research, technology transfer, wealth creation, and overall societal benefit.”

The authors outline some pathways for  supporting “the sensible introduction and diffusion of new agricultural practices and technologies” which include:

  • encouraging enforcement of national laws that comply with TRIPS
  • proactive access to modern biotech (including patent pools and open source licensing)
  • collaboration (including a supportive community of IPR practitioners!)
  • continued building of IP portfolios by national agricultural research institutions.

This is a great opinion piece, looking forward to reading more results from the studies from Washington State University in this area.

Nobody should go to bed hungry anymore, anywhere…

I am cross posting this item, it was from the CGIAR Consortium website, posted on August 16, 2011.   A message from CEO Lloyd LePage.

Delivery of food aid is essential and urgent, …‘But as we proceed, we must not forget we have seen crises like this before. First comes a severe drought, then crops fail, livestock perish, food prices soar, thousands of people die from starvation, most of them children, and thousands more pick up and move. Every few decades, the cycle repeats. And it would be easy to throw up our hands and blame it all on forces beyond our control, but this cycle is not inevitable. Though food shortages may be triggered by drought, they are not caused by drought, but rather by weak or nonexistent agricultural systems that fail to produce enough food or market opportunities in good times and break down completely in the bad times.’  Were the words U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pronounced in her address on 11 August at IFPRI ‘From Famine to Food Security’

“And while some might say that this is a conversation for another time, that we should worry about preventing food crises only after this one has passed, I respectfully disagree. Right now, when the effects of food security are the most extreme, we must rededicate ourselves to breaking this cycle of food shortages, suffering, and dislocation that we see playing out once again in the Horn of Africa”

This is the same sense of urgency we feel at the CGIAR. We need to act now, to avoid future crises not only to cure the current problems.

I said it before, and IFPRI’s Director General, Shenggen Fan eloquently reiterated on his opening remark to Secretary Clinton’s address, while important research results are available  ‘we are deeply concerned about the slow transmission of research into policy actions on a local, national, and international scale. IFPRI and its partner research centers within the CGIAR can provide the evidence needed to guide sound policies and build strong programs in the Horn of Africa’.

Mrs Clinton confirmed that ‘We do have the know-how. We have the tools. We have the resources. And increasingly, we have the will to make chronic food shortages and under nutrition a memory for the millions worldwide who are now vulnerable’ and  ‘ We need that commitment to long term solutions and we need to develop it together’

We are converting that sense of urgency into action by convening an event in Nairobi on September 1st to increase the understanding and awareness of the underlying causes of the current crisis, to highlight solutions, innovations and recommendations for mitigating the effects of future extreme weather events. Details on the event will be available soon.

With partners from the region we will be exploring how to turn that evidence into policy and action. Together we can break that vicious cycle Secretary Clinton was referring to in her address, so that nobody will go to bed hungry anymore, anywhere in the world.

You can watch recording of this special event at http://www.ifpri.org/event/famine-food-security-meeting-challenge-horn-africa

Lloyd LePage

Google’s move into hardware – and tech patents, and an update on patent trolls

Google’s announcement that it will buy mobile phone manufacturer Motorola Mobility will turbocharge the proliferation of the Android OS.  But the $12.5 billion deal may be more about IP.  Unlike Apple, IBM – and Motorola, Google does not own a lot of patents.  But the acquisition includes a 17,000+ technology patent portfolio that Google will be able to use both defensively and offensively.

 American Public Media’s technology reporter Steve Henn:

“If you steal someone else’s idea, you can get taken to court and you’re supposed to pay for it. But lots of software developers believe the U.S. patent system — especially when it comes to software — is just broken. It’s a total mess. There are literally thousands of patents issued for the same ideas. You know, for example, just in the last few years, Amazon was awarded a patent for creating social networks…..

….So Google, Apple, Microsoft have all gone out shopping, buying up thousands and thousands of patents. Most analysts believe it’s largely for the purpose of suing each other”

High tech players regularly game the patent system.  So Google will now have substantial leverage (and probably some trump cards) if and when sued by another player for patent infringement. You can read, or listen to, the story “Why Google wants to buy Motorola Mobility.” And make sure to read the comments!

Relevant to this discussion, I added a comment, by way of a “P.S.”, to my recent post on patent trolls.  My concern was that non-operating entities (NPEs) would start to acquire agricultural patents and expose development projects to this kind of “gaming the system”.  I subsequently visited the web site of a leading NPE, ‘Intellectual Ventures’ and discovered that they already have a portfolio of agricultural IP (emphasis added):

“Invention Portfolio: Broad Technology Market Coverage: Agriculture, automotive, communications….”

 Post written by Peter Bloch

Free EPO webcast: Biotechnology patents

Visit the EPO site “VCL – Biotechnology patents” for information about a free webcast coming up in October.  They are now taking registrations.

The summary included the following extract:

“Patents for life is an emotive topic – the subject of fierce debate and ethical concerns for over a decade. This area of patent law, more than any other, is subject to caveats, provisos and prohibitions regarding what can be patented. Technologies using proteins, enzymes, genes and stem cells stand to benefit mankind with new medical treatments, but the public, law-makers and patent offices nevertheless insist on strict limits to patent exclusivity.”

This one hour webcast is a taster for longer sit-in workshops taking place in November.

Can agricultural research help eradicate famine?

This post appeared on the CGIAR Consortium blog yesterday afternoon.  It’s an important message from the CEO, Lloyd Le Page.  With reference to the current crisis in the Horn of Africa, he asks ‘“what could we have done to prevent this?” And, even more importantly, “how can we prevent this from happening again?…..”’

Please share with your networks. Thank you

Every day, we see images of refugees fleeing a drought-ridden Somalia, crowding into camps along the country’s borders, desperate for food and shelter to stay alive. Tens of thousands of people have already died in the region, livestock, essential to the wellbeing of the local populations, suffer the same fate.  Yet, as more than half a million children teeter on the brink of starvation, we ask ourselves “what could we have done to prevent this?” And, even more importantly, “how can we prevent this from happening again?”

No matter how severe, droughts do not have to lead to famine. Droughts are natural events, famines are not. Famines happen when countries and regions are not equipped to deal with extremes in weather. This current famine results from an extended drought and political instability, but it also reflects the long term vulnerability to food insecurity that is endemic in the Horn of Africa. As Oxfam recently pointed out, food aid alone does not help people to withstand the next shock:  “Much greater long-term investment is needed in food production and basic development to help people cope with poor rains and ensure that this is the last famine in the region.” We at the CGIAR, the world’s largest partnership of international agriculture research, could not agree more.

Recent research by our climate change, agriculture, and food security research program has identified future “hotspots” of climate vulnerability– areas where climate change impacts on food security are expected to become increasingly severe by 2050. Not surprisingly, some of the same countries being affected by the current drought where identified in the report as “hotspots” for climate-induced food insecurity.

Meeting the challenges of ensuring food security for the world, especially those is more remote and marginal locations and the poor in both rural and urban locations, as well as averting future famines, require us to act with an urgency. We must develop new ways of thinking more holistically about natural resource and farmland management, as well as revitalized water management practices, and the development of drought-tolerant crop varieties and hardier livestock breeds. Investment in such research is highly cost-effective:  for every US$1 dollar invested in international agricultural research, US$ 9 dollars worth of additional food is being produced in developing countries.

What more can we do to ensure our research helps avoid future famines?

Good research is not enough
Even the best agricultural research can only realize its potential if it is used on the ground. For this to happen, it must be delivered under a benign policy environment, into agricultural systems with sufficient infrastructure and access to viable and predictable markets, and with the extension support needed to secure farmer adoption. Because of this, we need to work  closer with funders, local and regional governments, national research institutions, universities, non-governmental organizations, aid agencies, farmers, civil society organizations and private sector companies. Only by mobilizing such collective strength, can we find and deliver the effective solutions at the scale needed to avert future famines and food crises.

The way ahead: working in partnership for better research outcomes
The good news is that agricultural research finds itself in a new era of opportunity. Rapid scientific progress has been made in genetics, ecology and information technology, offering a multitude of new ways to improve agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability. The CGIAR is using the latest scientific approaches and technologies in a series of new global research programs aimed at improving food security and the sustainable management of the water, soil, and biodiversity that underpin agriculture in the world’s poorest countries.

What is more, the reformed structure of the CGIAR opens the door for stronger collaboration and partnership with other research and development actors. The 11 new research programs approved in the last year, bring together the broadest possible range of organisations, combining the efforts of multiple CGIAR centres with those of many and diverse partners from across the research and development spectrum. Working in partnership on such a large scale, makes this new CGIAR effort unprecedented in terms of its size, scope and expected impact on development.

The work of the aid agencies is vital to provide the emergency aid that is desperately needed right now, but even aid agencies this time appeal for more to be done. We at CGIAR are doing our best to ensure that such famines never happen again. I was once told that the CGIAR is the best kept secret in agricultural research. We must make sure that our work remains a secret no longer, because agricultural research really is the key to better global food security and a sustainable, famine-free future.

Lloyd Le Page
Chief Executive Officer, CGIAR

Message from: “Can agricultural research help eradicate famine?

Trial and error tackling online copyright infringement

Spotted this news item today in the Guardian today: UK policy makers are struggling to find workable policy solutions that can bridge gaps between the interests of rights holders, consumers, and internet service providers (ISPs).

 “Government scraps plan to block illegal filesharing websites

 “A consultation document … said that ministers intend to do more work on what other measures can be pursued to tackle online copyright infringement in an effort to stop widespread music piracy, which is increasingly spreading to television and film…

[Cable recognised] that more needs to be done to crack down on illegal filesharing to protect the copyright holders, but nevertheless backed down on introducing site blocking legislation…”The basic philosophy is we do recognise the need for protection, but it has to be protection that’s proportionate to needs and based on evidence.”

Problems are often connected to the stick approach.  As well as legislation to allow the blocking of sites by ISPs there is the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) software.  From TechEye.net, “Vince Cable: You can own your own property”:

“DRM is a means for companies to stop you from copying your own content, mostly due to fears of piracy, but it stops users from legitimately enjoying property that they have legally bought. You know, in shops”

The Guardian article highlighted this problem too, “We can’t say that businesses should embrace technology but say to consumers they can’t use technology for products they have paid for

TechEye.net said the Digital Economy Act was much criticised, and rushed legislation can come back to haunt.  The issue of online copyright infringement is a moving target which needs careful consideration.  However, in the meantime rights holders must be frustrated with the amount of time this careful consideration is taking – they are the ones who are losing out financially in the meantime.  It seems highly probable that sticks are not going to be enough, not whilst the technology can move faster than the law making.  But are carrots enough, especially as building them into a profitable business model remains somewhat elusive?

Reputation – the importance of this intangible asset

Further to the News of the World scandal[1]in the UK, Intellectual Asset Management blog ran a post about reputation, “Reputation – the most important intangible asset there is.”  They said:

 “Reputation is, of course, an intangible asset – one it is very difficult to measure, to manage and to protect. But just because it is difficult does not mean it should not be done. What has happened to the News of the World, and the knock-on effect this has had on News Corp, just goes to show the truth of that.

 …the fact is that without a reputation off which you can leverage strong brands that people want to buy into, the other intangibles, intellectual assets or intellectual property rights you own will be far less important than they could be.

This is as relevant in the public sector as it is in the private sector of course.  There are certainly parallel lessons to learn.


[1] For those who might not be familiar with the scandal, the BBC had extensive coverage.  For a summary see “Q&A: News of the World phone-hacking scandal